Thursday, April 4, 2013

From Farm to Table to Narnia: Asheville, NC (Part 1)

Happy Spring!  I hope you've had time to rest and rejuvenate.  My students were off all last week, so I took vacation, and my husband and I headed for the mountains.  We had no real plans other than to eat well and wander - both of which we accomplished well!  My vacation included a hiatus from all things electronic, including blogging, so in lieu of my usually weekly memes I have a special two-part vacation recap full of food and fun recommendations in case you and your friends, family, or significant other are thinking of trekking to western North Carolina any time soon.

We woke up to a dusting of snow!
There are many, many hotels in the area for all tastes and budgets from the Grove Park Inn ($200-$400 a night!!!!) to your standard Holiday Inn.  The best place to find great hotels, coupons, activities, and restaurants is Asheville's tourist website  It's really easy to navigate.  We found a cute hotel less than a mile from the Biltmore that was well within our tiny budget.  We got a 10% off coupon too!  The Brookstone Lodge has great ambiance and an indoor pool and hot tub in addition to being affordable.  Because it was right off the highway and "family friendly," it was a little loud in the early afternoons, but we were usually heading off for evening activities around this time, so it wasn't much of a nuisance.

Our first night there was very laid back.  After we checked in, we drove around for a while to get the lay of the land.  Rob was just about to turn around when I spotted this insanely fancy lamppost.  Impulsively I shouted, "Turn here!  A lamppost that fancy means one of two things: a nice neighborhood with really fancy houses or Narnia."  Rob was game, and that is how we discovered the Town of Biltmore Forest.  There is an actual town inside of Asheville that has its own town hall, police department, and public works program.  The houses are beautiful - each one has its own architectural flair.  One had a sloping window frame like a wink; another was straight off the streets of Italy with a terra cotta roof.  Right down the winding road was a gingerbread esque house from the pages
of an English fairy tale.  And, finally, our favorite, a brick estate at the end of a mile long driveway that we mistook for one of the streets in Biltmore Forest.  As the name implies, there is an abundance of trees in town and little lakes with ducks and turkeys and even a Peter Cottontail rabbit or two.  Rob and I wanted to move right away.  A little research revealed that its founders, Mr. C. D. Beadle and Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the town with a commitment to nature in mind.

After all that wandering, we were starving.  Rob found a local "farm-to-table" restaurant called Homegrown.  We ended up eating here twice.  It was soooooo good!  Their slogan, "Slow Food Right Quick," is spot on.  They had a simple, seasonal menu and served manageable portion sizes.  The first night we ate there I had tomato soup (my passion!), and Rob had the "Redneck PotPie," which was a barbecue chicken pot pie layered over cheesy grits with a fresh baked biscuit top - Yum!!  The next time we went was for breakfast.  After braving the continental, feeding-an-army style breakfast at our hotel for one morning, we decided we would flex our budget to include breakfast out for the rest of the trip.  Homegrown was definitely on the list.  I had pancakes with maple syrup and the famed cheesy grits while Rob, enamored with his pot pie from dinner several nights ago, had the breakfast pot pie, which was equally delicious.

As for morning coffee, nothing beats Early Girl Eatery.  When we overslept the free breakfast our first morning, and would have happily continued oversleeping had we known the blandness that awaited, we went to the famed Early Girl Eatery downtown.  The coffee was amazing, and the dining room is so bright and airy.  Rob and I normally split when we go out, but at 11:00 a.m. with no prior sustenance (or coffee), we both wanted our own plates.  I got the black bean and cheddar omelet, and Rob had the "Porky" breakfast bowl - chorizo sausage and homemade pan gravy over grits - to die for.  Add some homemade blackberry jam on a biscuit, and I was good until dinner, which that night was at Tupelo Honey Cafe.

We spent that entire first day wandering around downtown, popping in and out of the eclectic shops and planning our dinner attack - Tupelo's and then...drumroll please...French Broad Chocolate Lounge.  Oh yes, the best dessert place in North Carolina.  Hands down - and the line of customers there every night (we went twice) agrees with me.  But like Mama taught  me, dinner then dessert.  Tupelo's comes by the "Honey" in its name honestly.  They serve huge, square yet impossibly light biscuits, which you can then slather with fresh honey or homemade blueberry jam or, do as I did, cut your biscuit in half and put honey on one side and jam on the other - heaven!  Before we knew about the complimentary biscuits though, we had ordered a hot pimento cheese dip appetizer.  My grandma is the queen of pimento cheese, so we had high expectations for this dip.  Although it was not what we anticipated, it was delicious.  It was spicier than my grandma's with mustard and hints of jalapenos that gave it some depth.  Then we split one of my favorite dishes ever - shrimp and grits - with roasted red peppers and goat cheese grits - goat cheese - I love this pungent, smooth cheese.  (Apparently, we, like all good Southerners, also love grits - they were featured in almost every meal we ate.)  Our shrimp was a little over-cooked, but we didn't mind as dreams of chocolate truffles danced in our heads.  To the Chocolate Lounge!

Click here for Part 2.


  1. A break from electronics is one of the best things about going on vacation! Glad you got to get away -- sounds like you both had a great time :)

    1. Thanks - we did! Part 2 will be coming soon!